How To Make A Spaceship: What I Learned From Julian Guthrie

I thoroughly enjoyed “How To Make A Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, An Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight” by Julian Guthrie.  Perhaps I enjoyed it because it was unexpected.  I thought I would read more about Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk – all billionaire’s who’s love of space is well known.  Instead, what I read was a fascinating story of perseverance, ingenuity, and hope that touched far reaching corners of our country and the globe.

  1. Dreams, Creativity, and Action (not necessarily in that order) – Achievement is often the result of dreams, terrific ideas, and a lot of hard work.  The larger the dream the higher risk of failure.  Larger goals mean tougher challenges to overcome and a bigger need for better ideas.  The more creative the solution the higher risk of doubt, ridicule, or scorn.  What keeps people moving forward (or even starting)?  It’s some combination of courage, passion, and perseverance.  Those attributes lead to action – hard work over a potentially extended period of time until the dream is realized.  From the overall goal of the XPRIZE (started years before funding was in place) to the performance of teams and individuals, this book describes the performance of these attributes repeatedly.
  2. Incentives Work – It’s shocking how often we forget the simple idea that incentives actually work.  Many shared the dream of space travel, but the $10 Million XPRIZE was the incentive that spurred action, investment, and achievement.  It gave people a reason to start building.  It inspired teams in the US, UK, Argentina, and Romania.  It not only inspired them to dream, but to rearrange their lives and to start building.  Yes, incentives work.
  3. Leverage – This book is most enjoyable through the human lens – the stories are captivating and motivating.  The book can also be read with reasonable insight into the power of leverage.  Leverage is demonstrated through the idea of the XPRIZE (more investment goes towards winning the prize than the amount of the prize) and also in how the  prize gets funded.  I’m just a finance guy, but the creativity of funding the XPRIZE is fascinating and wonderful.  The ultimate funding mechanism ends up magnifying the overall leverage of the prize itself.

The lesson: if resources are too small to accomplish the goal look for at least one point of leverage.  Recruit help through incentives.  Think creatively.  And don’t ever give up.


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